Most eleven-year-olds don't have much interest in yoga, much less in becoming a certified yoga instructor. But that's not the case for Meka Leach, of Palos Park, Illinois. Leach became the youngest certified Bhakti yoga teacher in the world at age 10. There are other young certified vinyasa yoga instructors, like Tabay Atkins who became an instructor at 11 and Jaysea DeVoe who started teaching at 12, but Bhatki yoga is a bit different.
Courtesy Shannon Leach
Bhatki is "a spiritual yoga–to love yourself," Leach says. It's a more spiritual form of yoga, focusing more on breath and the mantra part of the practice instead of the athletically-driven yoga styles that are more focused on intense poses and flows.
The funny thing is, Leach didn't grow up in a yoga-practicing family. In fact, yoga was just a way to support another passion of hers, fencing, which she started at the age of four. Her coaches noticed she was starting to get really strong and muscular a few years in, and suggested she take yoga to improve her flexibility.
"I tried my first yoga class and loved it so much," says Leach, who was eight at the time. "I told my parents I wanted to become a yoga teacher, but they said I was too young."
Last year, at age 10, they gave in to letting her get her yoga certification—and her 200-hour yoga certification, which took nine months to complete. While Leach was working toward her certification, she was also training for the national championship for fencing. That summer, she won the national championship for fencing in July, becoming one of the first girls in Illinois to win the title. In October, she became the youngest Bhatki yoga teacher in the country.
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To Leach, yoga is so much more than the physical poses, it's become her way of life. "It's not about being perfect," she says. "It's about the breath and how you feel."
But beyond yoga, Leach is on a mission to change her generation. She's helped her family be more mindful of waste and really hopes she can be an inspiration for kids her age to be more expressive with their feelings. She's developed a mission statement that guides her practices and brings her mindful yoga practices out into the world.
"I'm on a mission to change as many generations as possible, one person at a time. To learn to go back to our lost deep roots. To learn to love who we truly are. That our flaws are what make us beautiful. To be mindful with our words, thinking before we speak. And to start making change to take care of the beautiful Mother Earth."
Currently, she is teaching kids yoga classes where she not only guides students through a yoga practice, but also helps them express their feelings through crafts, journals, talking circles, and workbooks they can take home to open communication with their family.
"We've gotten letters from parents that say some of her students have felt so much more accepting of who they are," says Shannon Leach, Meka's mom.
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The 11-year-old also tries to give back to her community, raising money for nonprofits around Chicago. Her latest project? Teaching a special workshop for her fellow fencers and other young athletes with all the proceeds going toward Artists Breaking Limits & Expectations (A.B.L.E.), an organization that offers theater and film artistic courses and performance opportunities to teens with Down syndrome and other developmental differences.
Leach is home-schooled, which gives her extra flexibility in her schedule. She has little screen time, although she does have a social media presence for her yoga and mindfulness—Mindfulness with Meka—which her parents closely monitor and only allow her to use when they are present. Besides yoga, Leach has also gotten certified in Reiki and sound healing, and also has begun to do sound journey meditations for adults. For now, she says she'll continue to teach, fence, and just be a kid, and see where else this journey may take her.